Just as there are thousands of WordPress themes you can choose from, there are thousands of WordPress plugins you can install.
Some of them are mandatory for almost all websites, while others can be neglected.
The following plugins are what I install on almost all of my personal websites.
They are mandatory, as they provide basic functions that all successful blogs will need to thrive.
This list of plugins got you covered:
- from backups to SEO,
- from loading speed to social shares,
- from content marketing to enhancing the usability of your site.
I don’t think bloggers need more plugins than these, at least not if you’re just getting started and don’t make more than $2,000 per month online.
You can achieve that level of income with these plugins only. I did it, and so can you.
1. WordPress SEO by YoaST
This plugin is the definitive standard for SEO plugins.
There is no other choice but WordPress SEO by YoaST, especially after their latest upgrades to adhere to Google's updates.
It lets you specific major ranking factors like the title tag and the meta description.
It also helps you select a keyword for each article with its keyword suggestion function, and it shows you exactly how to optimize an article with its step-by-step process.
Last but not least you can specific Open Graph data for each article and page, which is the data that social networks like Facebook or others pull when your link gets shared.
Ever wondered what images are shown and what text shows up when someone shares your site?
With WordPress SEO by YoaST you’re in full control.
And since it’s so easy to use, you won’t have a hard time leveraging its power to your advantage.
You can install this plugin directly within your WordPress site, by going to “Plugins” -> “Add New” and then searching for “WordPress SEO by YoaST”.
2. Google Analytics by YoaST
Knowing how your website performs, who’s visiting your website, how much traffic which page gets, and more stats is crucial right from the beginning.
Google Analytics by YoaST lets you connect your Google Analytics property to your website in no time and adds some amazing functionalities to it.
Inside Google Analytics you can tell Google to also gather data about the interests and demographics of your visitors.
This of course is incredibly valuable information that helps you create even more specific content for your audience and promote more effectively.
Normally this would require you to update the tracking code on your website, but Google Analytics by YoaST handles this with a simple click of a button.
You can install this plugin directly within your WordPress site, by going to “Plugins” -> “Add New” and then searching for “Google Analytics by YoaST”.
3. W3 Total Cache
Loading speed is a very important ranking factor for Google, and it’s ridiculously important to enhance the user experience for your visitors.
How long do you wait for a website to load?
I leave each site that takes longer than 4 or 5 seconds, especially when I’m browsing on my phone.
W3 Total Cache is a great tool to speed up your website, by caching it.
Normally WordPress sends several queries to the database each time a visitor opens your site, which takes a lot of time.
The right information need to be searched inside the database and then get assembled into the page or post your visitor wants to see.
W3 Total Cache stores your pages and posts into a cache.
Think of this as putting a copy of all your pages and posts into a box.
If a visitor opens your website, W3 Total Cache grabs into the box and gives the visitor the right page, without querying the database; which of course is a lot faster.
However these might not work on all web hosts or might not bring relevant gains in speed for some pages.
Here's a 3rd-party tutorial on configuring W3 Total Cache, mine is following soon!
You can install this plugin directly within your WordPress site, by going to “Plugins” -> “Add New” and then searching for “W3 Total Cache”.
4. WordFence Security
WordPress is a very popular target for hackers, simply because almost 25% of all websites run on WordPress.
There are countless automated scripts analyzing WordPress sites for vulnerabilities and exploiting them.
To prepare your website from being hacked, I highly recommend to install WordFence Security.
It helps you protect your login form at yourdomain.com/wp-login.php against the most common attacks, which are dictionary- and brute-force attacks.
WordFence also monitors your files for changes that aren’t supposed to be happening and notifies you in case something goes wrong.
Other important functionalities are to block traffic from automated scripts and bots or from certain countries.
You can also integrate two-factor authentication to your WordPress site, which means that you can’t just log in using your password.
You’ll also get a text-message to your cellphone that you need to enter to get access.
So even if a hacker gets your password, they can’t login.
You can install this plugin directly within your WordPress site, by going to “Plugins” -> “Add New” and then searching for “WordFence Security”.
5. Disqus Comment System
Sparking conversations on your blog is key to add social proof and to stay in touch with your audience.
Comments below posts are a great way, yet there’s a caveat.
You don’t want to get comments like “Hey, great post” or “Thank you for sharing this!”, because they don’t contribute to the discussion.
People sharing comments like these only want to get the link to their site below your post (and thus drive traffic to their site).
Using a tool like Disqus Comment System will help you increase the quality of comments and also reduce spam.
By forcing commenters to login before commenting, only those people will leave a comment that actually have something to say.
This means the quantity of comments will decrease, yet the comments you do get are of higher quality and show your readers that others engage with your content.
If you ask me, it’s better to have two high quality comments that ask good questions or add to your content than having 10 low quality comments that only say “great post”.
You can install this plugin directly within your WordPress site, by going to “Plugins” -> “Add New” and then searching for “Disqus Comment System”.
6. Floating Social Bar
Getting social shares is a great way to get more traffic to your blog.
In fact, you’ll want to make it as easy as possible for your readers to share your content if they like it.
Floating Social Bar helps with this:
It adds a horizontal floating bar to your blog posts that shows social sharing buttons without distracting from the content too much.
Social sharing buttons can slow down a WordPress site drastically, as they load scripts from each social network.
This plugin however only loads these scripts when your visitor actually hovers over an image of a network. It won’t slow down your site at all.
The simple interface makes it easy to configure.
You can select the social icons you want to display with just a few clicks, arrange their order via drag and drop, and decide on which pages to hide the social bar.
You can install this plugin directly within your WordPress site, by going to “Plugins” -> “Add New” and then searching for “Floating Social Bar”.
7. EWWW Image Optimizer
Images are useful to make long texts more readable.
I love using images in my posts, as they give my readers a break from reading text, and they often clarify the content or showcase results.
However, using images is tricky, as they tend to slow down your website.
The bigger the resolution of an image, the bigger the file size is. This is especially tricky for retina optimized images.
And thus, the longer it takes to load.
Upload images only in the dimensions you need.
When your blog content is only 800px wide, it doesn’t make sense to upload an image that is 1,200px wide.
Using a tool like EWWW Image Optimizer lets you automatically reduce the file size of images you upload.
It implements certain algorithms that make the file sizes of your images smaller without making the images look bad.
All you need to do is to install EWWW Image Optimizer once and then it’s working for you on autopilot.
It also can optimize images you already uploaded to your website.
You can install this plugin directly within your WordPress site, by going to “Plugins” -> “Add New” and then searching for “EWW Image Optimizer”.
8. Swiftype Search
Having a search on your blog is an important part in enhancing the user experience for your visitors.
You want to make it as easy as possible for them to find content they’re looking for.
The more posts you publish over time, the more important it is to have a search.
Unfortunately the integrated search in WordPress isn’t that good.
Sometimes it happens that you can’t find the content you’re looking for.
Swiftype is a powerful free plugin that allows you to create your own search engine specifically for your site.
All you need to do is to sign up for a free account on their website and add the domain of your blog.
Then you can install the plugin from the WordPress plugin repository, by going to "Plugins" -> "Add New" and searching for “Swiftype”.
Add a name for your search engine, which could just be the name of your blog, and click on the synchronize button.
Swiftype now starts to scan your website and add all your posts to their database, so that your visitors can search them.
Make sure you have a search form on your page by going to Appearance -> Widgets and then adding a search form to the sidebars and widget areas where you’d like it to be.
The standard “Search” widget automatically gets connected to Swiftype.
9. Post Snippets
Sometimes you’re using the same text or code snippets throughout multiple posts.
Say you always start or end your posts with the same phrase.
Or you want to use optin forms in your posts and therefore have to paste HTML code that you got from your mailing service.
Post Snippets lets you handle these things very effectively.
You can just define that piece of text or code once inside Post Snippets.
The plugin then creates a snippet of text you can use inside your content, which automatically shows the text or code you’re using over and over again.
Say you use a standard paragraph to start all of your blog posts.
What you would do is to add that paragraph to the Post Snippets plugin in "Settings" -> "Post Snippets".
Specify a short-code for this snippet like “post_begin” or something similar, and save the snippet.
Inside your posts, you now only need to add [post_begin] and the Post Snippets plugin will automatically add the opening paragraph to it when the page is loaded.
This can be a huge time saver!
You can install this plugin directly within your WordPress site, by going to “Plugins” -> “Add New” and then searching for “Post Snippets”.
10. BackWPup Free
You’re investing time, work, and money into your WordPress site, so you want it to be protected right?
BackWPup Free is a tool that lets you do automated backups of your website.
In case your site stops working (for whatever reason), you’ll be able to recover all your contents like pages or posts.
Using BackWPup Free you can implement an automated schedule, so that the plugin creates the backups according to a timeframe you defined.
I use this to create daily backups of my sites.
Then you can send the backups to your Dropbox folder, an FTP server, or receive them by email.
It’s important to not store them on the server of your website! When your website and its server aren’t accessible anymore, you’ll still want to be able to access your backups!
I recommend creating a free Dropbox account for this purpose and saving the backups to that account.
Here’s my tutorial on installing and configuring BackWPup Free:
Here’s my tutorial on recovering backups from BackWPup Free:
11. Editorial Calendar
Creating content consistently probably is the most important thing when you’re just starting out.
You want to build a following, an audience that reads your posts and engages with what you have to say.
To do that, you need to publish content regularly.
It doesn’t matter if that’s written posts, audio, video, or images. Do whatever works best for you, but do it consistently!
Editorial Calendar lets you manage your posts inside WordPress in a calendar view.
WordPress allows you to schedule posts to be published on a certain day, instead of just publishing them immediately.
With Editorial Calendar you can stay on top of your content schedule, create content upfront and then let WordPress take care of publishing it.
I personally also use Evernote to track my ideas for posts.
So the workflow would be to jot down ideas in Evernote and then use Editorial Calendar to put them into order and schedule them accordingly in WordPress.
Make sure to have at least two weeks of content created upfront, so that you can focus on other parts of your business!
That’s my personal recommendation, of course you can go with 3, 4 or even 5 weeks if that feels more comfortable to you.
You can install this plugin directly within your WordPress site, by going to “Plugins” -> “Add New” and then searching for “Editorial Calendar”.
Building an email list is so important, because having a list of engaged email subscribers is the biggest asset of any online business.
You can market to those people directly and build up trust with them.
OptinMonster is a paid tool that lets you create popups on your website.
Wait a second before you scream you hate popups.
I don’t like them too, yet conversion rates show they generate way more optins than plain optin forms.
What’s even better with OptinMonster is that you can show the popups on click of a button.
When you open the website of the WP Summit, you’ll see green buttons to get access to free interviews.
On click a popup form opens where you can sign up.
This two-step method has several psychological benefits and generates a great conversion rate (if you have a relevant lead magnet).
I only use OptinMonster as this two-step method. I don’t have it show popups after a certain amount of time or after a visitor scrolls down through my content.
OptinMonster connects with all major email list providers like Mailchimp, Aweber, GetResponse, Infusionsoft, and so on. You can simply select yours and then hook up the optin form to the list you want your subscribers to be added to.
This is a paid plugin, that you can get at OptinMonster.com.
SumoMe is a WordPress plugin that combines several great functionalities.
It’s free for the basic functions, and has a premium version for more advanced functions.
You can add popups with optin forms to your site.
The difference to OptinMonster is, that these popups only open after a certain period of time. You can’t get them to open on a click of a button.
You can add scroll boxes, that show up after a visitor scrolled through your content.
You can add heatmap tracking that shows you exactly where your visitors click.
It also lets you add a vertical share bare to your content.
I don’t recommend to use this functionality if you already use the Floating Social Bar though, because that would overwhelm your audience.
SumoMe also integrates with all major service providers you’d need to build your email list.
You can configure your service provider easily in the settings of the plugin, which show up when you click on the blue bar that’s added to the right site of your website (if you use the free version of SumoMe).
You can get SumoMe at SumoMe.com.
This is a sample chapter from my WP Workbook 101, a 50-page workbook helping you to:
- Define a valid target audience for your website and business
- Create an offer that people will love buying from you
- Help you choose the perfect theme, by following a 30-point checklist
- Install the most important plugins
- Helps you to handle sales and payments directly on your website
I created this workbook, because it was the information I was missing when I started my blog.
This is the only guide you need when you're starting your online business on a tight budget (just like I did in 2013!).
Go and get the WP Workbook 101, it will save you months of testing and hundreds of dollars!